Tuesday 13 July 2021

The Pandemic - personal, mental, physical, social, philosophical, political. For me, it's all one.

The pandemic has touched us in a wholesale, total way: it's affected our bodies, our minds, the units we live in and with, our places of work, where we 'play', our attitudes, our beliefs, our politics and however we view 'the economy'. In a way, everything big that happens - war, a bit new act of parliament is similar but not quite so total as this one.

We can start to see some shape to all this. For some people who caught the virus, the effects have been devastating, death (obviously) with all the attendant sorrow and regret and sense of loss; grave illness and survival (this is me) and the bewildering effects of that - some mental, some physical or a mix. But the moment I say that we begin to see the fault lines between believers and non-believers. Only today someone has come on to my twitter feed to say that Long Covid is an invention and I (me) wouldn't understand what he's got to say. He says he's using 'data' to inform him of this. The testimony of people eg on 'Panorama' yesterday is, to him, worthless. They're just tired. Apparently. 

Then we've had the politics - or many kinds of politics - to do with with whether it's a good or bad idea to have a public health response to a virus, whether the virus (or the talk about the virus) is a hoax in order to achieve fascist/maoist control over the population. 

It's also clear that there's a politics in the way that the illness has affected people differently. This is not just a matter of people 'over 70' or people with 'underlying health problems'. Clearly, factors like poverty, poverty-linked health problems, and  the way in which people of colour have been disproportionately affected - why? Genetic reasons or because people of colour are disproportionately poor. People will be working on these stats and the causes. Then again, there is the politics of workers excessively exposed to the virus: health workers, transport workers for example. 

Meanwhile, the issue of how the government has handed out contracts for the 'material' of the pandemic (masks, PPE equipment, test and trace etc) has been a huge scandal. It's been a scam. Incompetent buddies of government have made the kind of money that contractors usually only net at times of war. There are cases going through the court on this but we shouldn't hold our breath expecting that any of this will be redressed or recouped. 

Clearly, all this and much more divides people. Some say that it's divided us more than before. Has it? To listen to the shock jocks, it sounds as if it does. People who in the past have been generally on the Right seem more furious with the government than the 'Centre'. They see a conspiracy from the very people who they hoped would be libertarian. It seems as if Johnson has responded throughout with the instinct of a libertarian but forced belatedly and grudgingly into a position of heading a public health response. Even so, the public health response of vaccination gives him cause for self-congratulation. 

Right now we're in a moment when the politics of self versus society is being played out. That libertarian instinct seems to guide this government towards saying, in effect,'If you want to wear masks, wear them. If you don't want to, don't. If you want to social distance, do it. If you don't want to, don't.' The absurdity of this is obvious but the last 18 months of chaos and confusion is reaping reward. We are chaotic and confused. What do we do? The point of wearing a mask is that I protect you, while you protect me. It's a social act. But it's only a social act if we all  do it. The chaos and confusion about this is a stark symbol of why 'individualism' that seemingly non-political state of being, is in fact totally political. As others have pointed out, it's analogous to things like traffic lights, seat belts, windows that don't open wide in tower blocks and so on. We take care of ourselves and each other. 

Clearly, much of this is hateful  to right wing libertarians. For decades they've derided the 'nanny state', 'health and safety gone mad' while the Thatcher era saw a sequence of terrible rail disasters and more recently of course the terror and horror of Grenfell.  Every so often, an event unfolds that shows us that with a tiny number of inspectors and a tiny (in the companies' terms) fines, there is a constant push by corporations charged with supplying us with - for example, water - cut corners and jeopardise our health. One of the water boards has just been brought to court for dumping sewage in the sea. As George Monbiot has said, 'It stinks.' 

I see contrasts: the kind of treatment I received from the NHS at Whittington Hospital, the Rehab Hospital in St Pancras and the follow-ups I've had for ENT, Ophthalmology and the shocking comments from the conspiracy theorists. Teams of people - many on low pay - saved my life for no other reason than that I was dying. They didn't know me. It's their job to save people's lives and care for them. I can hardly put into words the shape, feeling and extent of their care. It's what I've tried to write about in my book, 'Many Different Kinds of Care'. In fact, through  the bewildering set of feelings and attitudes that overcame me, I did try to see  and describe these overlaps and minglings of the mental, physical, philosophical, political going on in my life. I was horrified when one of the shock jock types tweeted at me, 'But you're 74'..as if being 74 was an illness in itself, an illness that justified thinking that I was in some way deserving of death. Now. 

This - along with close examination of what Boris Johnson and others said, did and did not do in February and March 2020 - led me to think that the worst politics of all in all this was that there has been a large section of people who thought and still think that many people who got ill are expendable, unnecessary, useless and ready for junking. What do we call this? What do we call the death toll and suffering that has resulted from this? Was it avoidable? Was it possible to have been much clearer about 'mitigating' the spread and effects of the virus? Could test, trace and isolate been put in place properly and efficiently? Could those instructions - mask, wash and social distance - have been more carefully and efficiently put in place? Was the political will really there or were they secretly trying to enact the nonsense of 'her immunity without vaccination'? If so, that was a crime. 

I'm still trying to sort all these things out, spreading my thoughts out from myself and the effects of the virus on me, my family, work, leisure, the NHS, philosophy of the 'individual/society' and the politics of so-called 'libertarianism' - which in reality is an extreme form of the 'market' used as a means to demolish our sense of how we depend on each other and care for each other.